A writer, director, and producer with a passion for creating atmospheric tension and relatable characters on screen, Deon Taylor has stayed busy behind the camera in recent years, with several thrillers coming out in the near future. With his latest film, Traffik, being released in theaters this Friday, Daily Dead had the pleasure of catching up with Taylor for our latest Q&A feature, in which the filmmaker discusses the real-life horrors that inspired his new movie, the film's ambitious shooting schedule that included 87 setups in one day, and the launch of his new production label Dark Circus, which will be the home of the new horror anthology series The Thrill that he's developing with Snoop Dog.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Deon! Congratulations on your new movie, Traffik. How and when did you first come up with the idea for this film?
Deon Taylor: The way that I came up with the idea for the film Traffik, there were letters being sent to me as a parent for my 12-year-old daughter to be aware and alert of traffickers. Kids were being trafficked in my area and the local mall. As I researched more about what was going on in the area, I became completely blown away by what I found and how gigantic and rapid this epidemic was—not only around my area, but domestically and across the globe. This was what originally inspired me to write the screenplay. I started from there, writing the project.
Human and sex trafficking is a very real issue in the United States right now, adding another layer of relevance to your new movie. Did you do any research on those issues when you were writing the screenplay?
Deon Taylor: While writing the screenplay, I did a ton of research, because I was not aware of how prominent this was in my community, let alone domestically in the US. A lot of the research that I did was really about reading articles on trafficking and how it works. Reading about legislation. Reading about the different programs being built and trying to understand why we are not doing more when people are being enslaved. Millions of people are being enslaved domestically and so a lot of research went into the film while writing it.
There is a lot of action in a lot of different locations in Traffik, including some memorable scenes on the road, the woods, and a mountain estate. What was it like for you and your cast and crew to bring this story to life in so many diverse settings?
Deon Taylor: While making the film, one of the biggest things I wanted to do was make the locations become a character in the film as well. The locations that we were at: the forest, the gas station, the house, the cabin—I wanted to have the audience be able to take the ride, but also see that these locations were just as important as the actors because they were built for you to feel the tension of being there on screen with the actor, so it was extremely important. Working with Paula, Omar, Roselyn, and Laz is probably one of the most dynamic things I've been able to do as a filmmaker—blending their amazing talents to these amazing locations and just putting them in the right light. Making sure that the tension around Traffik was built the correct way,is something that we were set on doing when we first started out.
What was the most challenging or rewarding scene to shoot in Traffik?
Deon Taylor: The most rewarding scene for me was the bathroom. I had thought about that moment for a long time in terms of how Paula Patton's character would meet Dawn Olivieri's character in the bathroom. I had written a whole bunch of things to say and ultimately I ended up having them not say anything. I thought it was more powerful if you saw visually that something was wrong and visually how she was so scared that she couldn't even utter a word in fear of someone hearing her. I just thought that was a powerful moment of cinema, where it was just about looking and staring in the eyes. That was one of the most rewarding scenes for me.
When you look back at your time on set while filming Traffik, is there a favorite or funny moment in particular that stands out?
Deon Taylor: I think the funniest moment while filming the movie for me was the cabin scene. [Cinematographer] Dante Spinotti is 74 years old. I'm 40. We had a night where we did 87 setups in one night and I just remember looking at Dante while we were shooting, and it was an 18-hour day, and I'm like, "Oh my God, I hope this man can make it." Not only did he make it, but we sat on the porch afterwards and he smoked a cigar. I drank an orange juice and we laughed for another hour. I just remember thinking to myself, "This is the coolest dude I know," and that was probably the funniest moment.
Were you inspired or influenced by any other home invasion thrillers when you were making Traffik?
Deon Taylor: Yeah, I was influenced by The Vanishing and influenced also by David Fincher's Se7en.
In addition to Traffik, you have several other movies coming up, including Motivated Seller, starring Dennis Quaid, Meagan Good, and Michael Ealy. What can you tell us about that movie?
Deon Taylor: The new movie Motivated Seller is much more of a commercial psychological thriller. Dennis Quaid is absolutely amazing! I would go on record to say I feel like this is probably one of Dennis Quaid's top ten best performances of all time... to me. He's brilliant. He's canny. He's smart. He's funny and ultimately his character is uber-scary. The movie follows a couple that moves from San Francisco to Napa to buy a house, and he is the person selling the house. There are some very, very odd things that begin to happen after he sells the house, so this is a very good one that I'm really excited about.
You recently launched the production label Dark Circus, and you’re teaming up with Snoop Dog for a new anthology series The Thrill. What are you excited for viewers to experience with The Thrill and other upcoming projects at Dark Circus?
Deon Taylor: With Dark Circus, what I wanted to do was create a label that could be completely driven by using a minority cast—black, Latino, Asian, Indian, it doesn't matter. Being able to create a lane for a vehicle where it doesn't have to be an all-white film or all-black film, but a multi-ethnic film. I feel like Dark Circus is that. It would be the first label where you could have a white lead and a black lead. This would be the norm. It'll never be just one, because I wanted to create something where it looks like the world. I wanted to make a label that could speak to every audience, so when I look out of the window or go to the mall, I see everybody. I see all shades of color and with Dark Circus, I wanted it to be the first label that would specifically look to cast movies that way.
You’ve been involved with a lot of horror projects over the years, and you really seem to have a passion for the genre. Did you grow up watching a lot of horror movies? Do you have any favorite films in the genre that you still revisit today?
Deon Taylor: My favorite horror movie of all time is the movie Event Horizon with Laurence Fishburne. It still scares the hell out of me.
With Traffik coming out nationwide in the US on April 20th from Lionsgate and CodeBlack, are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention? Where can our readers go online to keep up to date on your work?
Deon Taylor: My next project is a movie called .38. I'm going to shoot an LA drama thriller set in the world of South Central LA—one night, one .38 caliber gun. You follow it over the course of 24 hours. Myself and Dante Spinotti will be back together, which is a blessing. I am excited to now explore visually what it would feel like to be a black police officer in South Central LA during the heightened time of Black Lives Matters and seeing police officers embroiled in violence against young African Americans and kids. This movie is going to be a really, really fun movie to make, but also a movie that I feel like will have the same energy and wind as Traffik.